Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. underwent thumb surgery during training camp. After missing 2021 with a knee injury, can Smith make an impact in fantasy football in 2022? What is Smith’s fantasy outlook, and where does his current ADP sit heading into 2022 fantasy drafts?
Irv Smith Jr.’s fantasy outlook for 2022
The last time we saw Smith on the field, he was still a backup tight end coming off his second season after being drafted as Kyle Rudolph’s heir apparent. The former second-round pick amassed 66 receptions for 676 yards and seven scores over his first two seasons. Expectations were for Smith to flourish as a starter in 2021, but a torn meniscus in his knee ended his season before it began.
The injury woes have continued since. Smith will “hopefully” be back in time for the season opener after undergoing thumb surgery for an injury sustained at practice. New head coach Kevin O’Connell is relying on Smith to be a difference-maker since the Vikings have zero proven depth on their roster. Of their current TE room, only 2021 fifth-round pick Zach Davidson and seventh-round rookie Nick Muse were drafted by the team.
Assuming Smith is indeed back for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, he should walk into a fantasy-relevant role. In 2021, Tyler Conklin produced 61 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns as Minnesota’s starting tight end. Last season, Tyler Higbee produced nearly identical numbers under O’Connell in Los Angeles.
If Smith can mirror that range of production, he would have ranked around TE20 in 2021. His ceiling is not overly high, but Smith could be a matchup-based backup for teams that opt against taking an elite tight end early in drafts.
The Vikings play some of the weakest teams in the NFL against tight ends, including the Eagles (32nd in fantasy points allowed against tight ends), Colts (29th), and Jets (27th). There’s also their two divisional matchups against the Lions (23rd) and Packers (22nd) each. Starting Smith against these teams can bode well for your team.
How the Vikings’ depth chart impacts Irv Smith Jr.’s fantasy projection for the season
There’s an assumption that O’Connell will open the Vikings’ offense more compared to past regimes. He’s stated he wants to bring multiple formations and looks to an offense that was stale over the last two years. Functionally, that could mean the Vikings see a very slight increase from a passing game that ranked 11th in attempts last year.
With Minnesota unlikely to produce a significant number of extra targets for Smith to benefit from, that means he’ll have to do more with his projected volume. He’ll be fighting off tremendous competition from superstar receiver Justin Jefferson, established veteran Adam Thielen, and up-and-comer K.J. Osborn.
With the pecking order seemingly established already and neither O’Connell nor quarterback Kirk Cousins favoring the tight end position in their histories, Smith has a limited fantasy ceiling for 2022. Yet, he tops out as a good option for those needing a backup thanks to a great schedule.
Smith’s ADP for 2022
The optimism around Smith is higher than I would’ve guessed. His ADP is No. 130 overall and TE14 despite missing last season and playing on a relatively loaded offense. He won’t be the third option on the unit, yet fantasy managers are treating him as a low-end starter to high-end backup.
He’s not worthy of that price when David Njoku and Albert Okwuegbunam can be had a round or two later. Even Hunter Henry, who was a standout surprise last year, is at No. 159 overall. Based on his history, Smith is unlikely to be the breakout performer with more than six scores like Henry last year.
He’d be a fine option for those streaming a backup at the tight end position. But Smith is barely worth a draft pick as a backup and is certainly a huge risk for those wanting to hit a home run at the position.